How to Tell a Gerund from a Present Participle

dragon_slayer_by_adventdeo-d2gcr35Some time ago, I talked about gerunds and reviewed the basics of how to identify one. Today, I’d like to go into a bit more detail, including how to tell the difference between a gerund and a present participle, which can be tricky, even on a good day.

In case your memory needs refreshing, a gerund is what you get when you take a perfectly good verb and turn it into a noun. Why? Because that’s how English rolls, my friends.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Gerunds are only ever formed from present participles, which are verbs ending in –ing. So how do you tell the difference between a present participle and a gerund? Let’s start by looking at what present participles do.

Present Participles

A present participle has a couple of different uses. It can be used to indicate the progressive and perfect progressive forms of all three verb tenses (past, present, future). For example:

  • Heloise has been slaying monsters for years.
  • Abelard was researching monsters long before they met.
  • Their daughter, Bedelia, will be hunting monsters with her mother someday.

Present participles can also be used as adjectives. In the following example, you’ll see that the word ending in –ing modifies the noun it precedes (zombie):

  • Abelard conducts research on a disgusting zombie that Heloise captured.

Similarly, present participles can be used as part of a participle phrase, which also acts like an adjective. Here, the participle phrase modifies the noun, vampire.

  • Bedelia spotted a vampire sneaking around the corner.


Okay, now you know what a present participle can do. So what do gerunds do? Well, as I mentioned, gerunds act as nouns. That means a gerund can be a subject, a subject complement, a direct or indirect object, or the object of a preposition. One of the keys when trying to distinguish the difference between a gerund and a present participle is knowing what part of speech you’re looking at. Let’s go over some examples.

Gerund as subject

  • Hunting is difficult. Monster-hunting is even more so.

Gerund as subject complement (of verb is)

  • Bedelia’s favourite pastime is cataloguing

Gerund as direct object (of prefers)

  • Abelard prefers reading to monster-slaying.

Gerund as indirect object (receives direct object all her attention)

  • Heloise gives training all her attention.

Gerund as object of preposition (to)

  • No one ever doubts Heloise’s dedication to slaying.

See what I mean about tricky? The good news is that you probably use them just fine when you’re talking or writing. And if you’re willing to put a little time into it, you should be able to figure out whether you’ve used a gerund or a present participle.

Image credit: AdventDeo @ deviantART



4 thoughts on “How to Tell a Gerund from a Present Participle

  1. I always have trouble with quickly distinguishing between the two. Thanks for this! An obvious tip I’ve heard is to replace the -ing word with a random noun (like “books”) and see if it still makes grammatical sense.

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